With this new, affordable Chromebook from Lenovo – the 12-inch IdeaPad Flex 3i – I’ll just go ahead and say it: these new Intel Alder Lake-N Chromebooks are here to change the game in the low-cost Chromebook space. And if you are anything like me and love the feeling of getting a great deal on a solid piece of tech, then you’re going to want to check this one out.
I don’t care if it spoils the review, I need to say this right up front: for the money, there are few devices I’ve enjoyed using this much. This new Flex 3i isn’t perfect and it doesn’t get everything right, but with $349 as the starting price, it doesn’t really have to. For this kind of price, I’m always ready to forgive cut corners here and there, and with this latest from Lenovo, I just find the overall corner-cutting less aggravating than usual. And that makes for a very good Chromebook experience.
Let’s start with what I love about this Chromebook
At the end of the day, this is a convertible Chromebook and it runs the same ChromeOS as every other convertible Chromebook available right now. There are no surprises there, but what this device manages to pull off on a pretty meager budget is a little astonishing once you get it out of the box and really start using it.
We said it after our first hands-on in Las Vegas at CES 2023, and it bears repeating: the new Intel Alder Lake-N Chromebooks are very, very solid in terms of performance and battery life. While we can talk about benchmarks all day – 46,000+ on Octane and around 140 on Speedometer 2.0 – the real-life use of this Chromebook speaks for itself while keeping a 8-10 hour battery life realistic.
Throwing my normal workload at it caused barely any issues, and the only time I felt a bottleneck in performance was when I had over a dozen tabs open with all my other work-related things and the RAM was likely the culprit. While there’s a version of this Chromebook supposedly coming with an upgraded 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage, our review unit (and the one widely available now at Best Buy) is the entry-level model with 4GB of RAM and 64GB of storage.
Still, this Chromebook largely kept up with my normal tasks of image edits, messaging apps, some remote desktop work, and music playback all going on at the same time. And this was while I was hooked up to my QHD monitor, too! While it doesn’t support the full 120Hz of my second display, pushing all those pixels around was never an issue, and in a sub-$400 Chromebook, that’s a pretty big win.
And part of the reason it’s so easy to use at the desk is the wide array of ports you get for such a small device. There’s a full-size HDMI port, 2 USB Type-A ports, a single USB Type C port, microSD card slot and a headphone/mic jack. There’s also a Kensington lock, too, if you need to deploy these affordable Chromebooks in a lab or library of some sort. It’s a pretty robust selection of ports on a compact chassis, and I love seeing it.
But I used this one at home a lot, too, so the 16:10 FHD+ screen was nice to have on the couch with its 300 nits of brightness when I wasn’t tethered to my desk. Having a solid screen on a more-affordable Chromebook is a breath of fresh air, and between the performance, optimal size for portability, and this screen, I had no issue making the Flex 3i my go-to device I took with me when leaving the office. And with the sturdy build of this all-plastic Chromebook (take note manufacturers: plastic doesn’t have to equal flimsy), using it on the go doesn’t feel off-putting like what we see in some other, more expensive devices. It feels great in the hand, on your lap, on a desk, or anywhere else you choose to use it.
Finally, rounding out the stuff I like on this Chromebook, I’m relatively impressed with the upward-firing speakers. They aren’t the loudest, fullest speakers we’ve ever heard on a Chromebook, but they are really solid. Spoken word sounds fantastic and even music tracks get a nice bit of roundness, too. They’ll do great for shorter video consumption and video calls, too.
Where Lenovo cut some corners
But it can’t be all sunshine and rainbows, right? I mean, some letdowns are completely expected at this price point. So, here are some ways where you can feel Lenovo cutting corners a bit. First up is the camera: while it does come with a privacy shade, it is one of the worst cameras I’ve seen in quite a while. It’s 720p, grainy, washed out, and only good when absolutely necessary.
The keyboard and trackpad are on the cheaper side as well. I’ve typed on far worse keyboards and I’ve definitely used worse, plastic trackpads. These aren’t stumbling blocks or reasons to skip this Chromebook; but they are clearly not superlatives, either. While the keyboard has worked for the most part, using it for longer sessions makes me want to go back to something a bit more comfy. The key presses just feel fairly unrefined and I just flat-out miss a lot more on this keyboard than on others.
The trackpad is much of the same: fine, not terrible, not great. It’s smooth enough for general use and when stuck in situations where it is the only option, it is perfectly serviceable. But there’s nothing about it that will wow you. Again, at this price point, as long as it is securely in place and not wobbling around, I’m pretty happy; and this one handles that just fine.
Finally, there’s no USI pen support. For a device this quick, this portable, and with such a nice screen, I was a bit shocked by this. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to include pen support in every Chromebook ever made, but it would make a lot of sense for this one to have it. I’m looking forward to the first Intel Alder Lake-N powered Chromebook that comes with USI support. The speed of these chips should make for a really solid inking experience for sure.
But that’s all for the stuff I don’t like with this one. So when you add all that up, positives and negatives alike, I think it is clear why I am so into this device right now. For the price, this is probably the best bang-for-your buck you can get in the ChromeOS space right now. Getting any device at a bargain is a treat, and it allows you to easily overlook small choices that were made along the way by the manufacturer to get the price down.
At the end of the day, if a Chromebook gets the job done well, is a little bit fun to use, and doesn’t feel like it’s going to fall apart while doing it, you have an absolute winner at a $349 price point. And I’d imagine as time goes on, we’ll even see deals on this Chromebook that will take it down under $300, and that is just crazy. Lenovo has absolutely nailed it with the Flex 3i, and this device has me wildly excited to see what other manufacturers build and release around this very capable small-core processor family from Intel.